We've known for decades that fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and lowers the risk for decay. And while adding it to toothpaste and drinking water are the more common ways for getting it into the body, an increasingly popular way—especially for children—is to apply fluoride directly to the teeth.
But is topical fluoride really worth the effort and expense? And, are there any side effects to treating teeth this way?
As to the first question, researchers have performed numerous studies measuring fluoride's effectiveness for preventing tooth decay. The Cochrane Oral Health Research Group recently reviewed studies on topical fluoride applications involving nearly 10,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 15. The combined average for all the studies showed a 28% reduction in decayed teeth for patients who received topical fluoride compared to those who didn't.
This was especially true for children at high risk for decay: directly applying fluoride gels, foams or varnishes to teeth reduces that risk substantially. But there are also side effects to this application. Fluoride in general has only one known safety concern, a condition known as fluorosis. Too much fluoride over time can cause heavy discoloration of the teeth. This does not affect the health of the teeth, but it can look unattractive and require cosmetic treatment to reduce its effect.
There's little to no risk for fluorosis with the controlled treatments offered by dentists; the fluoride solution remains on the teeth no more than a few minutes. But there is a possible side effect during treatment due to the relatively high dose of fluoride used. If the patient accidentally swallows some of the solution, the concentration of fluoride can cause stomach upset, vomiting or headaches.
Dentists minimize the chances for this by usually using the more difficult to swallow varnish form of topical fluoride on younger patients, and using trays or other barrier devices to isolate the fluoride solution from the rest of the mouth. Under professional supervision, it's rare for an accidental ingestion to occur.
The risks for these side effects are quite low, and the benefits of topical fluoride for reducing the chances for decay can more than outweigh them. Fluoride applications are one of many ways we can protect your child's current and future dental health.
If you would like more information on decay prevention techniques like topical fluoride, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
Helping your infant or toddler develop good dental habits is one of the best head starts you can give them toward optimum oral health. But even after they’ve matured enough to handle hygiene tasks without you, they still need your guidance.
This is especially true in the “tween” and teen years. Although they’re beginning to flex their independence muscles, they’re still vulnerable at this age to peer pressure urging them to try things that, among other outcomes, could hurt their oral health.
Here are 3 areas where your input and guidance could save your older children and teens from oral health problems.
Sports activities. As children mature, they may also become involved with various physical activities, including contact sports. Years of diligent hygiene and dental care can be undone with one traumatic blow to the mouth. You can help avoid this by urging your child to wear a mouth guard during sports activity. While there are some good choices on the retail market, the most effective mouth guards are custom-created by a dentist to precisely fit your child’s mouth.
Oral piercings. While expressions of solidarity among young people are popular and often harmless, some like oral piercings and their hardware could potentially damage teeth and gums. You should especially discourage your child from obtaining tongue bolts or other types of lip or mouth hardware, which can cause tooth wear or fracture. Instead, encourage them to take up safer forms of self-expression.
Bad habits and addictions. A young person “spreading their wings” may be tempted to dabble in habit-forming or addictive activities. In addition to their effect on the rest of the body, tobacco, alcohol and drugs can have severe long-term consequences for oral health. Unsafe sexual practices could lead to the contraction of the human papilloma virus, which has been linked to oral cancer in young adults. Be sure your teen understands the dangers of these habits to both their oral and general health—and don’t hesitate to seek professional help when a habit becomes an addiction.
If you would like more information on helping your child develop great oral habits, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
A baby’s teeth begin coming in just a few months after birth—first one or two in the front, and then gradually the rest of them over the next couple of years. We often refer to these primary teeth as deciduous—just like trees of the same description that shed their leaves, a child’s primary teeth will all be gone by around puberty.
It’s easy to think of them as “minor league,” while permanent teeth are the real superstars. But although they don’t last long, primary teeth play a big role in a person’s dental health well into their adult years.
Primary teeth serve two needs for a child: enabling them to eat, speak and smile in the present; but more importantly, helping to guide the developing permanent teeth to erupt properly in the future. Without them, permanent teeth can come in misaligned, affecting dental function and appearance and increasing future treatment costs.
That’s why we consider protecting primary teeth from decay a necessity for the sake of future dental health. Decay poses a real threat for children, especially an aggressive form known as early childhood caries (ECC). ECC can quickly decimate primary teeth because of their thinner enamel.
There are ways you can help reduce the chances of ECC in your child’s teeth. Don’t allow them to drink throughout the day or to go to sleep at night with a bottle or “Sippy” cup filled with milk, formula, or even juice. These liquids can contain sugars and acids that erode enamel and accelerate decay. You should also avoid sharing eating utensils with a baby or even kissing them on the mouth to avoid the transfer of disease-causing bacteria.
And even before teeth appear, start cleaning their gums with a clean, wet cloth right after feeding. After teeth appear, begin brushing and flossing to reduce plaque, the main trigger for tooth decay. And you should also begin regular dental visits no later than their first birthday. Besides teeth cleanings and checkups for decay, your dentist has a number of measures like sealants or topical fluoride to protect at-risk teeth from disease.
Helping primary teeth survive to their full lifespan is an important goal in pediatric dentistry. It’s the best strategy for having healthy permanent teeth and a bright dental health future.
If you would like more information on tooth decay in children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
What's your favorite winter sport? For some, it's all about swooshing down a snowy trail on skis, a board, or a sled. For others, the main attraction is skating at an ice rink or a frozen pond. If you're more of an indoors athlete, you may enjoy a fast-moving game of basketball or a round of squash. Or, you might take a turn on a climbing wall or a trampoline.
What do all these activities have in common? They're fun, they're great exercise…and they all come with a risk of injury to your teeth.
It's easy to see how a collision on snow or ice could result in a blow to the mouth. But did you know that basketball (along with hockey) is among the sports with the highest risk of facial injury? What's more, many "non-contact" sports actually have a similar risk.
Located front and center in the face, the incisors (front teeth) are the ones most likely to sustain injury. Unfortunately, they are also the most visible teeth in your smile. With all of the advances in modern dentistry, it's possible to restore or replace damaged teeth in almost any situation—but the cost can be high, both for present restoration and future preservation. Is there a better alternative?
Yes! It isn't sitting at home—it's wearing a custom-made mouthguard when there's a risk of facial injury.
Most people don't ski or play hockey without protective gear like a helmet. A mouthguard can effectively protect against dental injury that might otherwise be serious. Available here at the dental office, a custom mouthguard is made from an exact model of your own teeth, so it's comfortable to wear and fits perfectly—but no safety equipment can work if you don't use it!
So whether you like to hit the trails or the gym this winter, don't forget to bring a custom-made mouthguard. It's a small piece of gear that can save you from a big headache!
If you would like more information on mouthguards, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
When it comes to our children’s safety, there isn’t much nowadays that isn’t under scrutiny. Whether food, clothing, toys and more, we ask the same question: can it be harmful to children?
That also includes tried and true healthcare practices. One in particular, the routine x-ray, has been an integral part of dental care for nearly a century. As a means for detecting tooth decay much earlier than by sight, it has without a doubt helped save billions of teeth.
But is it safe for children? The reason to ask is because x-rays are an invisible form of electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate human tissue. As with other forms of radiation, elevated or frequent exposure to x-rays could damage tissue and increase the future risk of cancer.
But while there is potential for harm, dentists take great care to never expose patients, especially children, to that level or frequency of radiation. They incorporate a number of safeguards based on a principle followed by all healthcare professionals in regard to x-rays called ALARA, an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable.” This means dentists and physicians use as low an exposure of x-ray energy as is needed to achieve a reasonable beneficial outcome. In dentistry, that’s identifying and treating tooth decay.
X-ray equipment advances are a good example of ALARA in action. Digital imaging, which has largely replaced film, requires less x-ray radiation for the same results than its older counterpart. Camera equipment has also become more efficient, with modern units containing lower settings for children to ensure the proper amount of exposure.
Dentists are also careful how often they take x-ray images with their patients, only doing so when absolutely necessary. As a result, dental patients by and large experience lower dosages of x-ray radiation in a year than they receive from natural radiation background sources found every day in the environment.
Dentists are committed to using x-ray technology in as safe and beneficial a way as possible. Still, if you have concerns please feel free to discuss it further with your dental provider. Both of you have the same goal—that your children have both healthy mouths and healthy bodies for the rest of their lives.
If you would like more information on x-ray safety for children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
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